By Ardo Abdallah and Isaac Abrak
BAUCHI, Nigeria – Nigeria’s military said on Wednesday it had transported nearly 300 women and girls rescued from Boko Haram to the hilly border town of Gwoza, as it seeks clues to the whereabouts of other girls whose abduction last year provoked international outrage.
The 200 girls and 93 women were freed from four camps during an army operation in northeastern Borno province as the Nigeria military bears down on what are believed to be Boko Haram’s final strongholds in the Sambisa forest.
The military said on Tuesday initial enquiries suggested the freed women did not include roughly 200 missing schoolgirls seized a year ago from the northern village of Chibok, whose capture drew global attention to the insurgency in Nigeria.
Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, has killed and kidnapped thousands of people since 2009 in Africa’s most populous country. It pledged loyalty this year to Islamic State, the militant group that has declared a “caliphate” to rule over all Muslims after seizing much of Syria and Iraq.
A military spokesman said on Wednesday the rescued girls would be transported for final checks in the national capital Abuja or Maiduguri, the main city of Borno state.
“We will take them to Abuja or Maiduguri for further investigation to determine whether Chibok girls were among them and where they come from,” military spokesman Colonel Sani Usman told Reuters.
While Boko Haram has snatched at least 2,000 women and girls from their families since the start of 2014, according to Amnesty International, the mass kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls has become a symbol of the insurgency that has plagued Africa’s largest oil producer for six years.
Diplomats and intelligence officials have said they believe at least some of the Chibok girls were being held in Boko Haram’s heavily fortified camps in the Sambisa forest, although U.S. reconnaissance drones have failed to find them.